While teacher contract negotiations at Oak Park school District 97 are nowhere near the finish line after starting in January, the school board and faculty representatives at the table have reached a point in the process where they’ll be getting into the details about what the next contract will look like, according to Supt. Al Roberts.

In a recent interview with the superintendent, Roberts gave an update about the current teacher contract talks, stressing, however, that he could not divulge any details about what’s being discussed in the closed session conversations. 

The current five-year faculty contract signed in 2008 — which was extended an extra year in 2011 — is set to end in June. Roberts said the Oak Park Teachers Association and board are set to meet this week to continue negotiations.

“Both sides are sharing their interests, and I can tell you that we’ll really know more in terms of the dynamics of how far along we will be after (Tuesday),” Roberts said. “We’ll have a better handle on the amount of work that needs to still be done. We hope to have this completed prior to the end of the school year so that teachers leave with a contract. That’s the goal of both the OPTA and the board.”

Roberts added that both sides are no where near a tentative agreement at this stage of the negotiations.

“We’re still in the process of telling our stories and trying to find a way that we can work together to accommodate the needs of our teachers and the needs of the community, in terms of the overall resources available, budget, etc.,” Roberts said. 

In February, the board and Oak Park Teacher Assistants’ Association agreed on a new contract. Among the provisions in the three-year deal is the elimination of “steps” and “lanes” as a compensation model for teacher assistants. That model has been long used in many school districts for compensating teachers for their years of service (step) and education (lane). 

The board and administration have said that steps and lanes would be looked at during the OPTA contract talks. Roberts said current discussions will also focus on the work and responsibilities expected from faculty. 

“One of the things that’s important for us to understand in this negotiation process is the possibility of roles,” Roberts said. “Our teachers are called to do an awful lot of things. Frankly, the profile of teaching is changing in terms of all the demands of their time and energy. And part of our work as we look at negotiations is, perhaps, to define some specific roles that will help both our staff deal with the pressures and demands upon them, and help the administration get things done. We are all juggling far too many things.”

Roberts added that the teaching profession is undergoing a change that’s never been seen before. In Illinois and other states, much of that change is spurred by the public, lawmakers and education reformers. Roberts noted that Oak Park taxpayers are also looking for relief from their school district. 

As to whether a new D97 teacher contract will reflect those trends, Roberts said, “The public can expect the school board and administration to be pressing forward with issues that impact sustainability and that reflect an absolute respect for the teaching profession. So we’re interested in the sustainability factor, because we realize how the tax base works here in Oak Park. We’re interested in how the contract impacts student success. And we’re interested in how we help our teachers have the respect they deserve.”

Wednesday Journal last week contacted the school board presidents for districts 200 and 97 for an update on their current teacher contract talks. Bob Spatz, president of the D97 board, said he could not respond without first getting input from the other negotiators. As of Monday, he said he had not gotten that feedback yet. 

On Friday, John Phelan, president of the D200 school board, said that negotiations are “moving forward, and both sides are working hard toward reaching an agreement. Our discussions have been professional in tone.”

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